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Local government committee prepares to report to Cabinet
This week's editorial is a guest editorial by Jasper Williams-Ward from September 27th, 2018 Nassau Guardian:
Local Government National Advisory Committee (NAC) Chairman Senator Ranard Henfield said the committee will have its recommendations for Cabinet by the end of September.
In April, the government tasked the committee with making recommendations that will shape local government in New Providence.
"We really have until October but I have given my committee a mandate of the end of September that I want the report prepared," Henfield said.
He also said a "second layer" of government is critical for the island.
"Seventy percent of the population of our country on one island is limited to one layer of government, 55 people who determine how everything happens at the national level and local level and because of that you don't have efficiency.
"Only those 55 people have ideas and visions and are smart - nobody else. So, if you do local government, you are empowering persons in every community, community leaders and community organizers, to go out and address their causes."
Ahead of the 2017 general election, the Free National Movement promised to introduce local government to New Providence if elected. The overarching goal is to allow residents a more hands-on approach to addressing matters that directly impact their lives and communities.
It is believed that a strong system of local government on the island would empower residents to resolve a myriad of issues, including alleviating traffic congestion, deterring traffic violations and eliminating unlicensed "bush" mechanics.
Henfield said local government will allow residents to be less dependent on their MPs thus allowing parliamentarians to focus on more national issues.
"The role of a parliamentarian is to address national issues not local, and that's the problem. We have confused the role of parliamentarian," he said.
"We think they are responsible for fixing our potholes and getting our garbage collection, and that's not what they're elected to do. They are elected to address our national issues: immigration, foreign policy, national education, national healthcare - that's their role."
Although the committee is still in the process of developing its recommendations, NAC member Dr. Nicolette Bethel said it is considering having five districts on the island.
"[We recommend] that we do something called strong local governance which is slightly different from what exists in the Family Islands," Bethel said.
"And the primary difference would be that instead of having a council that is elected by a single district, New Providence districts would be sub-divided into smaller areas that, for the purposes of our discussions, we have called 'wards' but final names are to be determined.
"[It] probably will be adjusted after the public consultation. Each of these sub-districts will elect a single councilor and then you will have a council for each of the five districts. And at the same time, each council will have a mayor, a chief councilor; we're recommending we call the chief councilor 'mayor'.
Bethel said the mayor will be elected by the citizens of the district.
The mayor will ensure that the day-to-day activities are followed through and taken care of.
NAC member Matt Aubry said the title does not hold the same meaning as it does in other places.
"We just wanted to make sure there is a solid check and balance and I think that was something that came up from a lot of folks that contributed. We don't want one person holding this tremendous amount of power. You want to ensure that people have clear roles and those roles are functional," Aubry said.
The committee also seeks to implement term limits for council members, according NAC member Diane Holowesko.
"What we're recommending is three-year term limits and two consecutive terms after which someone would have to step down for a term or more and they could be re-elected," she said.
Holowesko also said the committee wants to ensure comprehensive training for all candidates and members of the council.
"We realized the importance of education in this whole rollout process. And as a result it's going to be required that candidates who offer themselves for election will be given the option for training before the election. They can choose to take that training or not," she said.
"But once a council person is elected they have mandatory training every quarter so that they are familiar with the act intimately, so that they understand their powers, their authority and the logistics of how local government works.
"Every person that's elected to council will have to undergo mandatory training before they take up their post, and then it will be quarterly training for the first year after that and then training twice a year in year two and year three."
The committee does not intend to recommend increased taxes, according to Aubry.
He said the committee hopes each district will be funded by the already existing taxes, such as property taxes, traffic infraction fines, and fees.
"[We want to allow] potential partnerships with local businesses to generate and fund the initiatives that are priorities in those districts," he said.
Aubry added that he saw a case where a local government council was able raise nearly $900,000 from property taxes of which it was able to keep a portion for its community.
He said this is one of the models the committee is considering for New Providence.
Henfield said he recognizes the gaps in wealth throughout the island which is why the committee will recommend to pair low income communities with higher income communities.
"So, strategically what we're trying to do is group areas where you have a balance of revenue and income," he said.
"We would tie a Bay Street and Paradise Island with a Bain and Grants Town. We would tie a West Bay Street with a Stapledon and Yellow Elder. We would tie an Old Fort Bay with Carmichael Road, an Eastern Road with Fox Hill and Kemp Road, A Port New Providence and Yamacraw with South Beach and Pinewood.
"So, you would see your low-income community tied directly with your high-income communities."
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